And If That Don't Work?

A Neon Genesis Evangelion fic thingy.

By Josh "Sunshine" Temple


Here's the disclaimer of non-ownership: Neon Genesis Evangelion and its characters and settings belong Gainax and Hideaki Anno. Team Fortress 2 is owned by Valve. The Spoony Experiment is owned by Noah Antwiler



Other works can be found at my fanfiction website.


Temporary Backup Site.



Other website Temple of Ranma's Senshi Seifuku


C&C as always is wanted.



Chapter Ten: Defects and Acquisitions Part 1


            The train was short, just an engine and a single passenger car. It had been traveling for over ten minutes in a gently curving tunnel that sloped upwards very slightly. Occasionally, cross shafts perpendicular to the tunnel the tracks revealed a far larger shaft running roughly parallel to the train.


            If the passengers of the train had bothered to look out, they would have caught glimpses of large... things slowly lumbering through the parallel shaft. The tunnels diverged and the train slowed down. There were some gentle thumps indicating switching tracks. At the same low speed it navigated a wide right angle turn and then another as it passed through a dogleg. Finally, the train rolled to a stop and there was a series of chimes in the passenger cabin.


            "This seems a bit much," Kiko complained as she cradled her carbine. The gynoid clenched her jaw. Her heads-up display indicated that she was once again in range of Nerv's radio repeaters.


            Dressed in her plugsuit, Shinju looked up and sheathed the knife she was holding. "Security." She went to her carbine and inspected it. "But yes, your solution would be simpler."


            Misako gave a somewhat strained little smile. Checking their gear was a time honored soldiers' tradition, but to see it in girls so young...


            "Still, it's a bit much." Kiko shook her head. "We should have just killed the damn thing. It would have been fair."


            "Fair?" Shinju asked after reloading her carbine and finishing the check.


            "I think it'd take more than one death to balance things out," Misako stated.


            "If you agree with me then why are you playing along?" Kiko demanded.


            "I know what you've gone though." Misako's eyes narrowed.


            Kiko eyed the clone. "Yes, you lived through the Second Impact."


            Misako snorted. "I was there."


            "Oh... yeah, you were built er... grown... before." The cyborg blinked. "So you were there to stop the Impact? Fight the Angel... what? Clearly the mission failed... right?"


            Misako waved the question away. "This is war. We follow orders."


            "War," Kiko snorted. "The Angels have certainty figured that out. Not since the Red Army has Germany-"


            "It's not just Germany." Misako cut her off. "Everyone got hit. And so what? The Angels want to kill all of us. You know that. What's the difference if they start doing it on the installment plan?"


            "This isn't right."


            "Not my decision." Misako looked up at one of the cameras in the train car's ceiling. "Come on guys, you know it's us." The clone sighed and crossed her arms.


            A couple of silent minutes passed. Then there was a heavy rumbling as the armored door in front of the train slid aside. Remotely controlled in Central Dogma, the train rumbled forward and stopped again. The process repeated and the train surged forward into another tunnel. Unlike before this one was brightly lit and consisted of two tracks running parallel in a large constant arc. After transiting roughly half of the great circle the train stopped at another double set of titanic air-locks.


            The last doors opened to reveal a giant chamber half a kilometer in diameter. Compared to the vast six kilometer diameter of the Geo Front this annex facility was much smaller and far barer. Its ceiling was simple, consisting of several radial arches that supported horizontal circular plating. Lacking trees, lakes, or even much in the way of buildings, the Caina Containment Complex had been built for one purpose.


            A purpose that Operation Chariot had hoped to fulfill, but after that Angel's premature awakening within Mount Asama, the facility had remained empty with a bare skeleton crew. Recently, that had changed.


            Technicians from the Bureau of Technology's First Division had swarmed the facility activating mothballed equipment and repurposing whatever they could find. Several cranes stood still hanging over equipment they had just finished installing. A few others were pulling crates, beams, and anything else that lay within the Exclusion Zone.


            Scattered around a set of giant doors to one side of the egg-shaped steel cavity were piles of spare oversize equipment that were being carefully ferried out. Though the arrival of the two Pilots had halted their efforts for the moment.


            After clearing through an almost stunned Section Two security detail, Misako, Shinju, and Kiko left the rail-head and boarded a small electric cart to the wire fence that demarked the Exclusion Zone.

            Unlocking a simple padlock, Misako laughed. She then adjusted her sidearm and led Kiko and Shinju through. The Nerv guards remained on the other side of the fence, not that it would make a difference. Looking down she shook her head in disbelief. The fence posts were not even bolted to the floor. The whole thing could have been pushed aside.

            Her gaze rose and she let her emotions settle. Misako knew that the true strength of this facility did not lie in fences or even thick armored walls. Its strength came via other means. The facility's curving outer wall was studded with a perimeter of slowly rotating pillars. The surface of each was done in dense black tile with bright red trim. The three Nerv soldiers then passed through another, smaller, circle of pillars.

            In very center lay the fruits of First Division's efforts. It looked a bit like a steel bottle laid on its side. It sat on a trio of short pylons. Half a flight of stairs took the three women to a gantry that ran level with the "bottle's" neck. They passed through one last pair of thick circular doors. Inside was another bottle.

            Wreathed entirely with a glowing yellow light, the inner bottle hovered on series of mag-lev pads on the perimeter of the outer bottle. It was the same kind of containment field that had been allotted to Operation Chariot, but never used.

            In front of them was the two meter tall "neck" of the inner bottle. Aside from the containment-field, it was open, revealing the cell within the inner "bottle". The three approached the translucent yellow boundary but stayed well behind a red line that had been painted on the floor.

            Inside the cell, a being that appeared to be a young teenage girl with dark skin and a mix of southeast Asian features raised an eyebrow. She sat on a plain metal chair. The orange ribbon that tied back her strawberry blonde hair and the severe black and grey dress she wore were the only real embellishments in the room.

             Red and orange eyes glared back at her. The grey-eyed Angel smiled, smoothed her skirt, and stood up. She waited while Misako walked over to a phone mounted on the wall of the access gantry. There Misako confirmed the containment's integrity, that backup was aware of the situation, and that the surveillance feeds were active.

            "Warrant Officers, Captain. I'd offer you a seat but..." Iry waved to bare furnishings of her cell. There was a bunk that folded from one wall, with a table that folded out of the other end. She then sat back down on the cell's single chair. The very back of the tubular room had an alcove that contained a compact toilet, sink, and shower unit.

            Shinju looked around their side of the access walkway. First Division had yet to deliver spare chairs to the Exclusion Zone.

            "Iruel." Misako stepped up to the line and looked at the smiling Angel.

            "What do you want to ask about, today?" Iry grinned. "I assure you, it would be my utmost pleasure to help."

            "Awww, she's cooperating," Shinju pouted, fingering the grip of her pistol.

            "I'm stuck here aren't I?" Iry sighed and looked between the three young women. "So two of the Ayanami and Nerv's Mini-Evangelion. Your species' reckless ingenuity does you credit." Steeling herself she kept eye contact with the Adversary's Shadow.

            The diminutive clone for her part simply gave a cheery smile and tapped the hilt of her knife.

            Iry turned away. At least it was not the full power of the Adversary. At least She was not here. "I suppose the missing clone is with the human pilot in their Evangelions," she said, letting her attention drift back to the least threatening clone.

            "You felt them arrive?" Misako blurted before trying to regain her composure.

            "Deductions, my dear, but thanks for confirming." Iry smirked. "You're not supposed to answer my questions. It's a basic precaution. If Nerv wants to interrogate me face to face, then they'd send beings capable of generating AT fields. They'd also send at least two Evangelions as backup.

            "Really, they should send you lot plus an experienced interrogator." Iry smiled at Misako. "No offense, but this out of your sphere of experience. I suppose Nerv was lacking someone with the requisite skills and the necessary clearances. A person like that would be rare."

            "You know a lot about our systems." Misako stated.

            "It was my job." Iry shrugged, glancing at Kiko.

            "So, you see Evangelions and Pilots as part of the containment procedure?"

            Iry laughed. "Oh no, the Evangelions are to back you up, and you five can't be here all the time, not with a war going on. No, containing me is simplicity itself."

            "Is it? You're an Angel." Misako stated.

            "Let us consider the actual security arranged against me. We can dismiss the armored walls, the depth underground, the Section Two soldiers; that's all for keeping people out rather than keeping me in." Iry tapped a hand on the table beside her. "Even this containment field and the hex pillars are delaying tactics. They simply serve to keep me in place just long enough for my true warder."

            "Which is?" Misako asked while Shinju frowned and shifted her rifle from pointing to the wall to the floor.

            "An Azazel device." Iry's grin sublimated and her tone became more clinical. "The conditionals are easy enough to setup. Containment breach equals detonation. My only hope is that your electricians are really good at setting up a stable power supply. Oh, and that the system doesn't have a pretentious name. It would really be a bit much to be imprisoned under a Damocles Device."

            "You're joking?"

            Iry sighed. She paused and sighed again. "Breathing... still creepy. Captain, I'm a prisoner of psychotic apes who have weaponized the power of life and the power of stars. Oh yes, I'm also at the mercy of those who have died by the billion at the hands of my kind. Humor is what keeps me sane."

            "Sane?" Kiko snorted.

            "Though I'm surprised that you brought Warrant Insana Soryu this time. Given her temperament and what... happened."

             "Engelsabschaum..." Kiko hissed. Her choker flashed from green to yellow. Again she squeezed the grip and fore-stock to her rifle. "What kind of joke is this? How can this thing look more human than me?"

            The Angel rolled her eyes. "Believe me, I'm no happier about it than you are."

            "Happy? Do you know what happened to Berlin?"

            Iry paused and stared at the gynoid. "Of course." She shook her head in disbelief. "War can be such a waste. Which is why I disagreed with the Little Impact."

            "About that, what was your contribution to the attack?" Misako asked.

            "Targeting, training, and simulations."

            "You picked the cities!" Kiko's anger died and her shoulders lowered. "Berlin..."

            The Angel laughed. "I wish I had picked the targets."

            "You wanted it to happen?" Misako demanded.

            "No, destroying your capital cities? What does that accomplish? Exchanging the life of one my sisters for piles of dead humans? Again, that's a waste."

            "So you suddenly care about human life?" Kiko kept her voice even, but her choker had turned yellow and was gaining red splotches.

            Tilting her head to the side, Iry's smile stayed the same but the emotion drained from her voice. "Not in the slightest. What I care about, what I cared about, was accomplishing my mission. The Little Impact just made you angry; it didn't really diminish your ability to fight. No, my targets would actually have hurt you as opposed to annoying you."

            "Your targets? You had a different plan? So, there was conflict in your command structure?" Misako asked.

            "Command structure? I wish." Iry rolled her eyes. "I told you, we just have one leader: the eldest of us. Not that age has brought wisdom or the ability to listen to advice."

            "Then what did you do?"

            Iry frowned. "I'll say it again: training. I made sure her attacks would be on target. I also got Leli to setup a simulator."

            "But you didn't approve of your leader's plan."

            "That doesn't mean I didn't want Saha to win. Lot of good that did her." Her grin melting, Iry looked down. "Back then I still wanted to save Mother, back then I didn't know that I was being used, that we were all being used."

            Misako frowned. She knew the prisoner would get maudlin if the subject lingered. "What was your plan? How would you have beaten us?"

            Iry looked up. "Do you know what your power is?"

            Kiko narrowed her eyes and glanced at Misako. "Why are you humoring her?"

            Misako wanted to backhand the girl. Getting the prisoner to talk was the most important thing, once an audience was provided and a dialog opened, the conversation could then be steered.

            "Fine." Iry crossed her arms over her chest. She exhaled and gave a pout. "All these sacks and tubes. How can you stand it?" She shuddered. "Power is your power. Industrial power, scientific power, military power, they all require electrical power."

            "You'd hit our power-plants?"

            "Some, but only after the first targets: oil-fields, coal seams, uranium mines, pipelines, tankers, ports and tank-farms. Destroy the extraction, transport, and storage and your civilization slows to a grind. I'd try to start as many chain reactions as possible."

            "You'd have our uranium mines go critical?" Misako's eyes widened.

            "I wish." Iry laughed. "That's hard. However oil and coal-mine fires are easier, but that's just a side effect.  No for mines like that I'm afraid infiltration and explosion within would be about the best.  It won't destroy the resource, but will make it much harder to get to again."

            "How would you choose your targets? You couldn't destroy everything."

            Iry sighed. "Maybe not, but an event fifteen years ago was very illustrative."

            "The Second Impact?"

            "Why yes, it was easy to track which areas recovered first, and which ones were reduced to pre-industrial barbarity."

            "But we'd still have the Geo-Front, and no real military damage."

            "You sound like Her." Iry shook her head. "No patience. In time your supplies of fuel, ammunition, and parts would be exhausted. You'd still be dangerous, but you'd be far weaker. Even Tokyo Three for all its power and industry is not self-sufficient. Half of your Evangelions were imported, as were most of the parts for the other two."

            "You realize the effect your actions would have had on the population at large."

            Iry raised an eyebrow. "Certainly. Maintaining civil order would be a considerable drain on military resources. Shame it wouldn't force you to expend your nuclear stockpiles."

            "Millions would die, maybe millions more than died in the Little Impact."

            Iry gave a tiny smile and bowed her head.

            "Monster! You said you thought killing people was a waste!" Kiko shouted.

            The Angel raised a finger. "I said killing without accomplishing my mission was a waste. Removing your industrial and military capacity would have suited my goals nicely."

            Staring down the Angel, Shinju inclined her head.

            Iry blinked at the clone's tiny approving smile. Suddenly, her skin felt oddly restrictive and bumpy.

            Kiko glared. "That's cold."

            "That's practical, and better than the alternative. Killing people isn't the goal. If it happens, it happens. Killing you, in and of itself, is not a goal, conversely not killing you isn't a goal either. However, killing without a goal is just childish slaughter."

            "I'm not sure those words go well together," Kiko said.

            Iry laughed. "Breaking people, and people's things, without an objective in mind? What is that but a temper tantrum? And what is a temper tantrum other than childishness?"

            "Nothing is worse than unbridled cruelty of a child." Misako looked Iry in the eye. "And your Leader, this... half-Angel, she went with the Little Impact... it was a tantrum?"

            "Yes," Iry smirked. "You're starting to understand what your enemy is."

            "Why are you so happy? You're still a prisoner."

            "Yes, I am." the Angel ran a hand along the side of her cell. "And you'll do everything you can to win this war. Won't you?"




            Before the Little Impact, before the incarceration an auburn-haired angel pinched the bridge of her nose in frustration.  Mikki looked at the globe before her; it could have been worse, real lives could have been lost. "Enough." She waved her hand and the translucent image vanished. Shaking her head she stepped back to the couch and slumped into it. She stared off into the featureless pure-white distance.

            "What's wrong?" Leli asked, leaning on the couch-back. The even younger Armi looked up with wide eyes.

            The auburn-haired Angel idly waved where the map was. "We lost, Iry... Saha..." She sighed again.

            "But they'll be okay?" Armi asked. The little Angel wore a crisp yellow sundress and fidgeted with the bow that held her curly hair back into a ponytail.

            Mikki gave a smile. "Of course... for now."

            "We can try again right?"

            "Well yes thanks to you... but we're running out of..." Mikki turned to see that the young angel had wandered off.

            Smiling, Leli had zeroed in on the clock that sat on the edge of the furnished portion of the white void they inhabited.

            The tanned Angel huffed in boredom; Armi then started playing with her shoes. This caught Leli's eye.

            "I hope you weren't going to say time," Iry grinned.

            Mikki shook her head and looked to the garishly dressed angel standing next to the dark-skinned blonde. She had tried explaining the finer points of fashion to Saha, but the green-haired Angel had simply shrugged, and Iry had given that knowing little smile of hers. The same she was giving now.

            "We still have over a week until Saha's debut. Why are you letting a training sim bum you out? We do lose most of them." Putting stress on the "we", Iry's shoulders sagged.

            "I'm just getting fatigued," Mikki bit her lip.

            "Yes, only having a 10% chance of success, with a 90% chance that Saha and I will die would bum you out."

            Mikki glared.

            Iry looked to Armi who had curled up on the couch and was lightly dozing. She had been told that Sandi liked to nap as well. Poor little Sandi. "That just means you're alive." Iry's tone sharpened and she glanced at Saha. "When we do this for real..."

            Mikki waved her hand. "I have every confidence in you.

            Saha frowned. "The enemy are strong."

            "That's why we train." Mikki forced a smile. "That's why you'll hurt them. Hurt them almost as much as mother did."

            Iry rolled her eyes slightly.
Even at the most optimistic, Mikki's plan would result in an order of magnitude less damage than Mother's provided Saha's rescue failed of course

            "Your plan is too long term, too slow," Mikki chided. "If we win this..."

            Keeping her face towards Mikki, Iry backed to the clock and looked down at Leli. "Yes, yes. It's the same gamble. Everything or nothing. Why not hedge our bets? Why do we have to attack them at their strongest?"

            Crossing her legs, Mikki straightened her back. "So, do you want to do my job then?"

            "Why not?"

            Mikki laughed. "You couldn't handle it."


            The auburn haired woman extended her AT field, silencing her sister. "You've read about humans. That's hardly experience. You think you could do my job? You think you could infiltrate the humans, walk among them?"

            "They're only human." Iry raised an eyebrow. She blinked and paused, thinking.

            "Only human? Aren't you the one constantly talking up their strengths and how we need to train more to defeat them?"

            Iry frowned and reached up and ran a finger over her mouth. "Like you're one to talk," she tapped her lips. "You're the reason we look like this. Why not have us go among them? Surely we could learn more and do more damage."

            "And who would you suggest for the job?" Mikki's arm swept over her sisters going from the dozing strawberry blonde, to the slightly pale-haired girl enthusiastically examining previous girl's shoes, to the girl in a dress of green and orange paisley who seemed to stare straight up, and finally onto Iry who simply glared.

            "Crack troops, then?" Iry stated after a moment's glare.

            "Sarcasm, one of their few inventions of note." Mikki chuckled.

            "You're not insulting us?" Saha asked glaring at Iry.

            Iry paused, for a moment she was reminded of just how large, how powerful Saha really was. "I have severe reservations on how we're being deployed and if it's to the best end, but I would never question your commitment."

            "I will rescue mother. I will find the humans where they hide and they will burn."

            Iry clasped the tips of her fingers together and held them under her chin. "Yes, but there's so many. Care must be taken when selecting the targets."

            Uncertain, Saha looked to Mikki who shook her head.

            "Dear Iry, your cleverness is showing again. Your plan is too ambitious while also being too slow. Hardly an appealing combination."

            Iry's eyes narrowed. "Take away their power and industry and science will fall, without industry and research their militaries will grind to a halt."

            Mikki shook her head. "You are a being of half measures. You say one plan is not damaging enough but another is too damaging."

            "What?" Iry's voice rose. "Rendering humanity extinct is an ideal goal. I merely question the feasibility. Every single attempt to initiate the Third Impact has failed. They have come to expect us to make a mad dash to Mother, and thus they have fortified their position."

            "Yes they have some power."

            "Some!" Iry screamed, waking Armi and causing Leli to drop the sock she had been examining. The tiny blonde angel looked around in confusion and fear.

            "You live in their 'fortress city'. You've been inside the Geo Front. You've stood in the shadow of their Abominations. And you've seen the Adversary and her Shadows!" Iry exclaimed.

            Mikki slowly closed her mouth. She exhaled through her nose and waited... The others were agitated and looked between her and Iry. She knew her AT field was powerful but if the others united... it would be four against one.

            Saha stepped forward, her eyes glanced over Mikki's careful poker face and locked onto Iry's boiling rage.

            "You're afraid of them?" Saha's eyebrows raised.

            "Only an idiot would not be." The dark-skinned blonde spat. "They've killed seven of us. They woke up Mother, withstood her wrath, imprisoned her, then cut apart her flesh, and used it to make weapons, to kill us. Not that they needed to, they're quite good at killing us without the Abominations."

            Saha stared. Behind her Armi whimpered and leaned onto Leli who tried to curl around the smaller angel, making them less conspicuous.

            "Yes they're clever."

            "Clever is having a few tactical tricks and winning a couple battles. They've won. Every. Single. Time. The best we've gotten was wounding one of their Pilots."

            Mikki rose, sensing the nervous shift among the Angels. "We have more power, and we have your training. We will defeat them. We will rescue mother. We just need to try again."

            "Again?" Iry laughed bitterly. " 'They came on in the same old way, and we sent them back in the same old way.' Wellington after destroying the Old Guard, Napoleon's elite veteran division." Iry's shoulders slumped forward and she seemed to collapse into herself. "We can't win, not like this."

            In the silence, the young Angel's crying and Leli's attempts to reassure her dominated.

            Saha let her arms fall to the side and stepped back, then forward and then back again.

            Looking at the others and their nervous motions. Mikki found herself beginning to flush.

            "We'll keep at it, and for what? Even if we get to Mother, they'll just vaporize the whole facility. We need Mother alive, they... don't."

            Sensing the anxiety grow, Mikki grabbed Iry's arm and began dragging her to the side... away from the others. It did not matter how far they went, by the nature of the room, it was enough.

            Pulling her hand free, Iry frowned and looked behind her shoulder. She could see her sisters and the furniture of their "room" off in the distance, an island in an endless field of white. She turned back to Mikki.

            "I'm worried." Mikki lowered her eyes. "This defeatism... it's not you, and it's making the others nervous."

            "Defeatism?" Despite herself, Iry began to smirk.

            Mikki held up a hand. "Please no historical lectures. I'm sure the humans have used those words in similar situations."

            "No, it's not that," Iry laughed. "Don't you remember when we first met? What was said?"

            "I recall you marveling at having bilateral symmetry."

            "No, you said 'I fear we will lose the war.' " The strawberry blonde's grin grew.

            Mikki looked away. "And now you're saying it."

            "Contagion then?"

            Mikki gave a little nod.

            "Retaining morale is a true challenge, even in the best of times."

            Mikki laughed. "So you do have tact then?"

            "What of your actions?"

            Mikki stared at the younger Angel. "Mine?" she asked her AT field flickering.

            "Well... yes." Iry blinked. "You take me and run off, leaving them. What if they do something rash? Saha wants to prove she isn't scared and Leli and Armi are just plain scared."

            "No doubt you have a solution I should try."

            Iry turned back to her sisters, off in the distance. "A victory would reassure them. Go with a less ambitious goal. Force Saha to withdraw once the objective has been met."

            "What you propose is too timid."

            "What I propose leaves Saha alive."

            Mikki rubbed her forehead. "And you want to spend even more time with humans."

            "It hasn't seemed to have done too much damage to you."

            The auburn-haired angel's eyes flashed red. "You think you can make light of my situation?"

            "Why not?"

            Mikki opened her mouth then closed it. "You don't understand," she eventually said in a small voice.

            "Understanding is my purpose."

            "No." Mikki sighed. "Your purpose is to rescue mother, to trigger the Third Impact."

            "Fine, fine. You want humanity exterminated. You want everything spawned from the Adversary destroyed. Then what?" Iry leaned forward. "After we win, after the global anti-AT field, what then?"

            Mikki chuckled. "Now who is being ambitious?"

            "Goals are important, as are the means to achieve them." After glancing back at her sisters, Iry squared her shoulders. "Give me the means. If you won't approve the missions I come up with, then let me do more research. Let me learn more about the enemy."

            Mikki blinked in surprise. "This is more than you wanting to copy what I've done."

            "Dear Sister, the thought of playing secretary fills me with dread. As does the thought of existing as a sack of bladders and gasbags, but to defeat the enemy, I fear, may require attacking them from within."

            The auburn haired angel nodded her head with a smile that mixed pride and sadness. "I had my worries. Worries that you would be clever enough...."

            "You pull me aside because you fear my defeatist rhetoric and now you try to flatter me?" Iry laughed.

            "I suppose I am that transparent."

            Iry smirked.

            Mikki pinched the bridge of her nose. "Fine. Something to placate you, then. How about a bribe?"

            "What?" Iry inclined her head. "What could you buy me off with?"

            Mikki smiled. "Access to information, the ability to do your own operations, greater independence. You want to attack them from within, I can help."

            "And the cost?"

            Pacing, the auburn haired woman's grin grew. "Obedience."

            "Ah, how... direct."

            "No reason to beat around the bush." Mikki continued to pace. "You've grown. You're second to me in seniority. Yes... you think you can run things better than me, why not let you prove yourself."

            "And you conveniently put me somewhere out of the way?"

            "Oh no," Mikki put her arm around Iry's shoulder and started walking her back towards the others. "No. You'll be right here, serving as a great example."

            Iry saw that they were now close enough for Saha and Armi to notice them. Even Leli had looked up from the sofa cushion she had disassembled. Putting on a smile, Iry also put an arm around Mikki's waist. "Yes, a wonderful example. If I succeed I show the wisdom going along with the group, and if I fail I'll be a warning to the ambitious among us."

            Mikki squeezed her sister's shoulder. "You always were a smart one."




            The Pilots left the locker room. Rei was first, followed by her sister. Kiko walked next to the youngest Ayanami and seemed absorbed in conversation. Toji was the last out, his expression pensive.

            Studying his ward, Lev Flyorov nodded to himself. His men fell into place around the Children while the former hockey player glided over to his pilot. After they went through a couple of corridors they rode an escalator that took them into the vast interior of the Geo Front. They emerged into a long lobby-like corridor full of escalators and walkways that went to various points in Central Dogma. There they rendezvoused with Katrina's Azazel platoon.

            "You two ready for tomorrow?" Toji asked Rei and Kiko. "I'm guessing you two aren't that worried, especially you Red."

            "What? Our range training." Kiko asked.

            "I think he means the upcoming math exam. Since he asked us specifically."

            Shinju nodded.

            "Oh," the gynoid shrugged. "I guess... wait why shouldn't we be worried?"

            "Well because you're a-"

            "You had better finish that by saying college grad," Kiko hissed.

            "You've got a built in calculator!"

            The Evangelion sighed. "Stupid, stupid meatbag."

            Rei blinked. "Technically, you are over eighty percent 'meat', Unit 02."

            A couple of the Azazel guards snickered.

            "Really?" Kiko crossed her arms. "Hadn't noticed."

            "Be that as it may, you really can't use an insult that applies to you."

            "You're armored maybe we can pick some sort of canned meat," Shinju offered.

            Kiko ground her teeth. "Nein.Gottfluch es. I don't even get the cool parts of being a robot?"

            "At least you still have a soul," Toji said as they crossed another security checkpoint.

            "Great, what the fuck am I gonna do with one of those?" Kiko demanded. "Bottle it and put it on my mantelpiece?"

            "Uh... pilot a giant Robot so you can kill freaky aliens."

            "Silence!" Kiko smacked the side of Toji's head.

            "Owww! See this is why people think robots are plotting against us."

            "You 'think'? I doubt that," Kiko sniffed and turned back to Katrina.

            "Tssch." Toji rubbed his ear. "Man, can't believe I'm the only normal one. Shame about the Third. I bet he was normal."

            Shinju coughed and started fidgeting with her holster.

            Kiko stopped. "You... do know what happened with the Third right?"

            "Yeah, he died in that first Angel attack. Got caught between the JSSDF and the Russians." Toji shrugged. "Damn shame."

            Kiko gave a thin smile. "But you don't know who he was do you?"

            Bearing a little smile, Shinju looked up and took a step closer to Rei who automatically took the younger clone's hand.

            "Eh? Wasn't that a secret?"

            Kiko rolled her eyes. "Yes, but it's not held very well. It's pretty obvious, I mean the Third's father doesn't take loss well," the gynoid glanced at Katrina.

            "Your commanding officer is a very private man. You are correct; he does not take loss... well," Lieutenant Diebner eventually said.

            "Wha? Ikari had a son?" Toji whistled. "Damn, no wonder he's got such a hard-on for the Angels."

            Despite herself, Shinju giggled, while Rei raised an eyebrow slightly.

            "I can sorta see why they'd keep that under wraps. Head of Nerv losing his kid, not very inspiring."

            "No, it's not," Shinju added in a quiet voice.

            Lev watched the conversation. The secret behind the Third Child was... anticlimactic but understandable. After all, even Commander Ikari was only human, but... that did make it a useful cover-story; not all cul-de-sacs were true dead ends.

            "Still, woulda been nice to meet the guy," Toji brightened slightly. "Least then I wouldn't have been the only guy."

            Kiko sighed. "The commander's late son. You think he'd have been someone you'd have liked?"

            "He raised Rei."

            Eyeing Shinju, Kiko nodded. "Good point, Meatbag."

            "Yay, good work Oneechan!" Shinju hugged Rei.

            "Yes... very good point," Kiko said.

            Toji looked at the girl in the ruffled and ribboned dress. "Yeah. So... anyway you worried about the test tomorrow?"

            "Not in the slightest. Now if it was composition I'd be worried," Kiko said as they exited the pyramidal structure of Central Dogma and entered the large plaza that fronted the structure.

            "I will perform adequately," Rei added.

            As they crossed the plaza Igor and his platoon came into view. The man was holding a happily squirming ball of grey fur. Shinju's eyes lit up and she ran towards her bodyguard. Rei followed while Kiko walked off with Katrina and her men.

            Toji watched the other girls walk off and his shoulders rose in relief.

            Igor put Flins down, the puppy almost seeming normal size in the large man's arms. The fluffy, thick limbed puppy ran over to Shinju where the little girl lowered her gaze and the dog immediately sat down.

            Then Shinju scooped up the giant grey puppy and skipped over to her giant Slav. Watching with amusement, Kiko went over to the other German woman and started talking, gesturing with her armored hands.

            After allowing enough time for the other Pilots to be out of range, Lev leaned towards the teen. "Is something wrong?"

            Turning, Toji looked at the scarred, crooked-nosed man. "Do you have to ask that every damn time I'm not happy? Maybe I should hold in all my emotions, or I could constantly complain and gripe."

            "I suppose it would be easier." Lev chuckled. "How about homicidally-chipper, that least you could do?"

            Toji arched an eyebrow. "What, would your job be easier if I were an angry robot or a crazy little girl?"

            "Trade with Katrina?" Laughing, Lev's grin grew. "Not for all the sturgeon in the Caspian."

            "Right. Fish. And Shinju?" Toji shook his head. "Of course... she's happy with a new ribbon or a new knife, but she's really happy when she's using a giant robot to kill Angels."

            "Normal makes you easier to manage, but not sure makes easier for you to manage."

            Looking off to see the Ayanamis exit the other side of the plaza, Toji shook his head again. "And you're asking why I'm feeling glum? You seem to have a pretty good handle, and I'm sure you saw my performance in training."

            "You performed well."

            "Yes, Princess called me 'adequate'." Toji snickered. "Least it got Kiko jealous."

            "What problem then?"

            "Princess... Shinju then mentioned that Shirane would have loved it. And... she's right."

            "Ah," Lev nodded, understanding. "You are unique among the Pilots."

            "As I said, only guy." He bet the Russians knew that the Ayanamis were genetically altered clones, but it was best to not confirm it. After all, they knew more about the Third Child than he did, but so did Kiko for that matter. Being kept in the dark was really annoying, but that was how Nerv operated.

            "No, only one with family outside." Lev tapped his chin. "Kiko's father Nerv, and all Ayanami are also."

            "My father's Nerv."

            Lev lowered his gaze.

            "Right... I'm not worried about him." Toji's shoulder's sagged.

            "Sister problem, then?"

            "What am I supposed to do? She's friends with Princess, and she doesn't have many friends. Heck, Shinju doesn't either, not at least normal friends. Just my sister and Hikari's little sister."


            Lev shrugged. "Nothing to do other than be a good brother, and a brave Pilot."

            "Great... I should have expected that: endure nobly and keep a patriotic one-liner ready."

            "You've got the propaganda poster part down pat."

            "Swell, it's not like you guys would let me get groupies. Oh no, that'd be a security breach. Bah. Then again, Hikari would kill me."

            "Yes, Miss Horaki is a formidable young woman."

            Toji blinked and eyed the Azazel officer. "You see that, that right there's just plain creepy."

            Lev smirked.




            Flins at her side, Shinju entered the apartment. Her motions stiff and listless, she absently petted her dog's head.

            Igor stood at the doorway. "You okay, seem distracted?" he asked shifting aside to let Rei enter.

            Flins whined and nudged his mistress' hand.

            "Da," Shinju gave a smile and scratched her dog behind the ear.

            The giant Russian frowned slightly at the girl. "As you say." He looked to Rei and whispered in Russian. "Please watch your little sister."

            Brightening, Shinju giggled. "Really? Trying to be obvious?

            "You hear?" Igor asked.

            "Even in a low voice your words carry, Lieutenant," Rei said.

            "Also, mladshaya syestra? I made that much out. That was far too clumsy and obvious. You wanted me to know what you were saying to Oneechan." Shinju smiled.

            "See! Spying cheer everyone up!" Igor boasted. "Maybe after dinner I can take you both to range. Pyotr has special targets... very reactive."

            Shinju's eyes widened. "Really?"

            "Little girls easy to cheer up." Igor laughed. "You be good; I'll be back later." The large man then closed the apartment door and locked it.

            "That'll be fun." Shinju chirped as she led Flins to the couch. She then sat down and ordered the dog to do the same.

            Silently, Rei entered the living room and watched the clone, her sister, brush the dog. She went to her room. Rei looked at her dresser and straightened the silver picture frame and the glasses case. She then picked up one of the books the Commander had given her and returned to the living room.

            There she saw that Flins had crawled up onto the couch and was resting his head on Shinju's lap. The dog opened his eyes, looked at Rei, and went back to sleep.

            Rei sat down opposite the dog and opened her book. As she read she noticed Shinju pick up the remote and flip the television to one of the music channels.

            Frowning, Rei closed the book. "The Lieutenant is correct. Something seems wrong."

            Shinju blushed, lowering her head, and absently brushed back some strands of hair that had escaped her Alice-band. "Well..."

            "Does Doctor Akagi need to be informed?"

            Shinju shook her head.

            Flins woke up and blinked at the two girls. His eager, happy expression shifted to one of attentive anxiety.

            "The Commander?"

            Shinju's blush grew. "No..."

            "Misako then?"

            The pre-teen clone stared.

            Ignoring the look, Rei nodded. "That eliminates medical, strategic, and when combined with Lieutenant Khariton's concerns, tactical issues." Rei glanced down at her novel. "Is it romantic then?"

            Shinju's flush turned bright crimson "Oneechan! It's not like that!"

            "Oh." Rei glanced down at her book. "Are you sure? The symptoms seem to match, and I have some ideas."

            "What?" Shinju chewed her lip. "Um... who?"

            "It is like that then?" Rei's smile while small was triumphant.


            Flins lifted his head and leaned it onto Shinju who scratched his neck.

            A frown flickered across Rei's face. "Then what is it?"

            "The Third child."

            "What about him?" Rei madly asked.

            Shinju's mouth opened slightly. "Oneechan..."

            "Is that component in your fabrication causing issues? I did ask if you needed to talk to Doctor Akagi," Rei's tone was slightly disapproving.

            "It's not that," Shinju pouted. "It was just weird... I didn't think anyone.. knew. I mean I know there was a grave... next to mother's but-"

            Rei's eyes narrowed fractionally

            "But I don't know... it sounded like Kiko and Toji were talking about a different person."

            "They were."

            Shinju's pout grew. "That's not the answer I was hoping for."


            "I'm more than just a... component."

            "No. By definition, the part of you that was transferred from the Third into this shell was a component."

            "Oneechan! You make it sound so cold, so clinical!"

            "We were made in a laboratory," Rei reminded.

            Shinju made a little whimper.

            Rei pulled the smaller clone into a hug. "There's nothing wrong with what we are. We were made for a purpose."

            "But..." Shinju leaned into the hugs, both her sister's and her dog's. "What about the Third?"

            "What about him?"

            "You act like he's dead, that I'm not him... or at least that I'm something new." Shinju sighed.

            Rei shook her head. "You're partially incorrect. The Third is dead. You were the Third." She looked distantly. "The salvage operation worked."

            "What if it didn't?"

            "You would know; I would know." Rei forced a thin smile as she squeezed Shinju's shoulders with her arm.

            "You would?"


            Shinju looked to her sister. "I'd know because... I wouldn't remember, right?"

            Rei nodded.

            "And you'd know... because you remember."

            Rei raised an eyebrow.

            "You weren't salvaged, right?"

            Swallowing, Rei shook her head.

            "Right, so you'd know how a clone without a Salvaged soul would act."

            "I was also far younger when I was activated," Rei said allowing herself to nod. Holding Shinju tighter, she scratched Flins' nose.

            Giving a little sigh, Shinju reached out and hugged Rei. "It's okay Oneechan! You're not alone."

            Rei brushed back some of Shinju's hair. "That is true. Are you feeling better?"


             nodded. "Yup! But...."


            "Well, it's still weird. Toji and Kiko know about our clone bodies but not the soul salvage? They even know who I was, you know, before."

            "Those are our orders." Rei frowned again. "Technically, the Second should not even know who the Third was."

            "But she did."

            "Yes, open secrets are untidy." Rei looked vaguely disgusted. "I'm not sure why Commander Ikari let such personal information be released."

            "Don't be sad!" Shinju hugged Rei again. "The Commander knows what he's doing."

            "Yes, he does."

            Rei nodded and returned to her book.

            Shinju turned to the TV, but her attention was unfocused. She shifted her dress and checked her holster. She then went through the same procedure to verify her magazine pouches and then finally her collection of knives.

            Seeing a flash of steel, Rei looked up from her book. After Shinju started placing knives on the table, Rei returned to her book.

            As she continued to read she noted when Shinju got up and went to her room. Flins got up and followed at her heels. After a moment, the girl returned carrying an oilstone, cleaning cloth, and light lubricating oil.

            "Do you want me to sharpen any of your knives?" Shinju asked after laying out her tools and rearranging her knives.

            Rei unclipped the combat knife and scabbard she had slipped through her belt and handed it to Shinju with a slight smile.

            Shinju accepted the blade and began to work. For a while the steady even sound of metal run against stone filled the apartment. Rei knew that keeping a steady pressure and angle was critical to honing an even blade. She also knew that the focus sharpening required was fairly meditative.

            There was a click as the front door unlocked. Both Rei and Shinju put their hands on their sidearms, and withdrew them when they saw the person crossing the threshold.

            "I'm home!" Misako said as she entered the apartment. Her sisters responded to her salutation. After removing her shoes, Misako went to the fridge and pulled out a beer. She sighed at the ranks of cans that looked back at her.

            Tossing her jacket over a kitchen chair, she crossed the kitchen and came to the living room.

            Both Rei and Shinju looked up and met Misako's eyes. Shinju frowned and looked back down.

            "How's it going, you two?" Misako asked, eyeing her youngest sister. She popped open the top to her beer and sat down across from her sisters.

            "About the same," Rei admitted. "Shinju is grappling with the existential crisis of being an artificial shell containing a displaced soul."

            "Oneechan!" Shinju cried.

            "But she is doing well," Rei added.

            "Huh," Misako took a drink.

            "Well... how do you handle it, Oneesan?" Shinju asked.

            "The job hasn't changed. Kill the angels."

            "Is that all there is to life?" Shinju asked.

            Rei tilted her head and looked at Shinju uncomprehending.

            "I'm..." Shinju exhaled. "Kiko was talking about the Third and who he was and..."

            "Oh," Misako gulped down some more beer. "Yeah, that's pretty awkward. Makoto and Shigeru talk about 'Misato' sometimes and..." the pink-haired clone tapped her fingers against her chair's arm rest.

            "We had hoped that keeping as much information about your... about the Third secret would help things."

            Shinju gave a weak smile. "It's more than that. It's easy, so easy."

            "What?" Misako asked.

            The small girl waved a hand over her body, over the bowed hairband and purple and black gothic Lolita dress she wore.

            "Oh." Misako blinked. "You're worried about where that came from."

            "The hairpiece came from Misako, and the dress was at your friend's instance," Rei explained.

            "But... is it me or the..." Shinju bit her lip.

            "Shinju honey, you're the one in frills and bows. Rei and I aren't," Misako said as delicately as she could.

            Giving a slight whimper, Shinju resumed leaning onto Rei. "Was it supposed to be this way?"

            Misako laughed. "Of course not. We didn't expect the Angels to start targeting the pilots, we didn't expect the Russians to start nuking the Angels, and we didn't expect... Antarctica."

            Shinju nodded. "The Second Impact."

            "Right kiddo." Misako leaned forward and put her beer down on the table, next to the neat row of knives. "You see, that's the thing life... isn't what we expect of it." She extended her hand and gave Flins' side a scratch.

            The dog rolled over and revealed his belly.

            "No, it's not," Shinju said, nearly whispering. She continued to pet the large puppy.

            "At least you've got us now."

            "And the Commander," Rei added.

            Shinju began to smile, and blush.

            "Yeah! The old bastard actually seems to like you. Guess he's not so heartless."

            Rei gave Misako a sharp look.

            "What? I'm saying, as father... as father figures go... you could do worse." Misako looked out the window and tapped the top of her can. Section Two had certified that this room was clean; they had swept it this morning in fact. However, the problem was that the Russians lived in the building.

            Misako sighed. At least they were constantly reminded of the layers of security and misdirection. The illusion of normalcy never intruded into their lives. The Nerv officer wondered if that was a hindrance or a positive on her sister's emotional state. Shrugging, she asked as much.

            Shinju blinked. "Well... I don't have to pretend I'm normal. Do I?"

            "Conformity is a burden most Japanese schoolgirls must face." Misako's voice was distant

            Shinju raised an eyebrow. "But the secrets. This all came because Toji and Kiko don't know who I... was."

            "They do know about the clones." Misako sipped her beer. "I'll talk to Ritsuko and the Commander. See if they can be cleared for the Salvage project."

            Shinju looked down at her knives then at her dress.

            "Is that what you want?" Misako asked as she pulled herself forward. "It's in the past, and they might think differently of you."

            Shinju nodded. "But... they are my teammates. Should they know? What do you two think?"

            Misako looked to Rei. Both exchanged a mostly befuddled glance. "I don't know. I suppose it depends on how open you want to be with them."

            "They're fellow Pilots," Shinju tilted her head.

            "Sure, sure. I'll still ask Ritsuko and the Commander. If they say yes about disclosing the Salvage Operation, then we can decide how much of your past to tell them. We could just tell them that the technology exists. Warrant Suzuhara might want to know that he's got more options available in case he gets hurt."

            "Thanks Onneesan, that could work!" Shinju smiled and returned to her sharpening.

            "Don't get too happy yet, they might say no," Misako cautioned.

            "Doesn't that make things simple then?" Shinju brightened. "That way I don't have to make a choice."

            "Uh, sure. Though I'm not sure why they'd say no. It's not like those two aren't privy to most of our secrets anyway."

            Rei put her book down, distaste entered her voice. "Compartmentalization and need to know are critical elements to security."

            "Yeah, yeah, but so is making sure the people that do need to know are cleared for it."




            Director Pavel Beria stepped into the restaurant's central dining room. Clad in dark wood paneling and highly polished hardwood flooring, containing deeply polished tables, glassware, and chandeliers, the large ornate room was much the same as the last time. However, instead of being full of various military, political, and scientific dignitaries the room was nearly empty.

            The exceptions were the ubiquitous Azazel guards at the corners of the room and a pair of musicians at the small stage. An older Caucasian man in a black suit with a black bowtie and hat sang with an accompanying pianist. The woman had stern features but smiled playfully at the duet. In Beria's estimation she played well enough, though the man sung, in English, with a deep smooth voice that like the room itself was reminiscent of earlier times.

            Reflexively the Russian's suspicion grew. He tugged at his lab coat and frowned. His shirt and tie were clean, but compared to the musician his clothing was rather natty. He took some comfort in the idea of the pianist's little black dress being nicer than anything Dr. Akagi would wear.

            His eye turned critical and he wondered who they were working for: CIA, FSB,  SIS, INSCOM, IPEA, or maybe a more obscure group like KJV.

            "They ain't bad are they?" a man with a noticeable twang in his voice said from behind.

            Beria turned to see the strong, stout form of Hiram S. Forsyth. The Russian's self consciousness immediately evaporated; the Texan engineer was still wearing coveralls and work gloves and had pulled his safety goggles down around his neck.

            The Russian turned to read the poster that had been leaned against the stage. "Harvey and Elizabeth Finevoice. Name is accurate, I suppose."

            "That it is," Hiram agreed, stiffly as he made a similar paranoid evaluation. The Texan suspected the duet to be working with NSA, ATFW, ONI,  TGW2, GRU, Mossad, or maybe even PSIA

            "Chief Engineer," Beria said, respectfully inclining his balding head.

            "Program Director," Hiram replied. He looked around the room, then back at the musicians. "I suppose we're early."

            "Leave it to Nerv to be late," Beria sighed.

            "Well, I'll take that crooning over that tonic-selling miracle-man's babbling." Hiram grumped as he pulled at his gloves. "Drink?" he asked, midway through removing the brown and orange work gloves.

             On the dais the song ended and after a moment Harvey began crooning a new tune. “Anything your little heart desires, your slightest wish is my command, there’s nothing I won’t do…”

            "Sure, it's all coming from the same UN fund."

            "What's the old saying you had back in the Commie days?" Hiram asked as they walked to the polished brass and oak bar. "As long as they keep pretending to pay us, we'll keep pretending to work?"

            "Something like that. Though from what I've seen, you do work." Beria cracked a grin, though his eyes were cold and distant.

            "Haven't killed an Angel yet," Hiram grumbled before nodding to the attentive bartender. "Whisky, and I'm guessing vodka," after switching to Japanese, he looked to Beria who nodded, "for my... friend here."

            The bartender bowed and poured the drinks.

            Beria took the offered glass and smelled it, relishing the mild scent. "Your design lacks raw power, but I cannot fault your methodology. The concept sound enough."

            Hiram raised an eyebrow and sipped his whiskey. "Really?"

            "Oh yes, deflecting an AT field in a pseudo-spall configuration has some basis. Instead of neutralizing or brute-forcing the 'impenetrable barrier' you intend to turn the shield itself into a weapon against its creator."

            "Are we so transparent?" Hiram put the glass down and turned away. He allowed a small smile. The YA11 was merely Republic's most... public of a three tiered development plan.

            The Russian chuckled. "Come, little white elephant is powerful, but-"

            Hiram cut him off with a resigned nod. "Right, the math is simple enough. We ain't got the power to penetrate the shield. That leaves dang few options. Not hard to figure the one we'll try."

            "That which cannot be broken can be bent. Is more elegant solution."

            "Elegant?" Hiram scoffed. "Yeah, that's a word for it."


            "Damn straight. We're fighting some pretty nasty customers and one of the big reasons we keep winning is due to the enemy being dumber than a sack of hammers."

            "And the strength of our alliance and the unique weapons each side brings to the table." Beria gave a cold smile.

            Hiram raised an eyebrow and leaned a boot on the brass rail on the foot of the bar. The eggheads assured corporate that his consultations with the Cleveland office were secure but... "Sure thing. The great alliance," he drawled before draining his shot glass. He then tapped the lip and slid it across the bar.

            Looking at the back of the Texan's shirt, Beria's smile touched his eyes. "You yourself are a great facilitator. Production models of the A-11 have started deployment." He gulped down some of the vodka.

            "Deployed? Hah. Most of them are slated to protect the politicians, instead of being sent against the Enemy." Scoffing, the shaved bald Texan turned to the wispy-haired Russian. "You know how it goes."

            Beria lowered his head. "This true, I worry that my superiors overly conservative with deployments, but I can understand defense of Moscow."

            Hiram took his refilled glass and chuckled. "That's the difference between you and me."

            "There are other differences." Beria stated.

            The Texan simply took a sip.

            "We've been keeping up on you, on your curriculum vitae." Beria folded his hands. "The scope is... impressive."

            Hiram laughed. "Pretty words on pretty paper."

            "Yes, I know accreditation is half the battle, but needless to say: the number of degrees is impressive. However, not much original research I'm afraid to say. No papers of any note. Even your patents are pretty light. And it's not like you designed that Antonov airframe, or that giant gun (that was Austin Advanced Technology), or the reactor, Westinghouse did that. You simply assembled it."

            Beria exhaled then continued. "And yet despite all that you propose a way that may yet defeat the enemy, and may do it without ridiculously expensive bio-machines or the mass collateral damage incurred by brute-force solutions."

            The Texan turned and raised an eyebrow at the Russian. "I'm an engineer."

            "Yes, you build things. Make things work." Beria's smile did not reach his eyes.. "Systems integration. But really, what else would a polymath with a dozen degrees do?"

            "Eleven. That management one don't count."

            Beria's smile warmed and he inclined his head in acknowledgement. "Still, you've assembled your giant gun, with which you just might kill Angels. What next? Even engineers don't like to hang around production."

            "What about you, Doc?" Hiram held his glass. "You're an egghead. You had a hypothesis: nuclear weapons can kill Angels. Guess what? You've upgraded that to a working theory. What's next for you?"

             "Well, I suppose we've got the same problem." Beria's smile vanished but his eyes continued to warm up to something that almost approached friendliness.

            "I'm sure an enterprising man like you will come up with something."

            Holding his half-full glass, Beria turned to watch the duet practice on stage. "At least there are advantages to the abuse of power."

            "You mean Nerv forcing them to let us in for a late lunch?" Hiram asked.

            "That. That and the piece you carry. I'm surprised. A revolver more traditional no? But I suppose you are special." The older man chuckled. "One wonders what you think such a little weapon can do. Given what it takes to hurt enemy."

            "I just like to be prepared," Hiram's face clouded. "And unlike you I don't have my own squad of heavies."

            Beria shook his head and finished his vodka. He watched the guards stiffen, then tap their headsets, unconsciously nodding in acknowledgement.

            "I reckon they've finally come," Hiram said, making the same observation.

            The doors popped open and a man with tight blue gloves, silver and black spiraled goggles, and a long flapping lab coat scrambled towards the pair. He turned to the bartender. "The great hero of Science, Professor Insana demands a menu!"

            Her expression mortified, Ritsuko stalked behind him. She wore a blue dress under her more subdued lab coat. A pair of spiraled goggles hung around her neck.

            Beria raised his eyebrows and gave a little shake of the head. Hiram gave a dismissive chuckle. The Russian, the American and the Japanese woman were too engrossed in Insana's antics to pay much attention to the musicians nor notice the slight start given by the singer as the flailing figure of Insana entered the room.

            “If you should want the moon and the stars that shine, and the sun from up above, I’ll tear them from the blue just to prove to you…” Harvey sang after a moment's pause.

            Ritsuko sighed and smacked Insana on the back of the head. "What the hell is wrong with you!" the blonde scientist demanded.

            "What?" Insana asked as he adjusted his goggles. "You told me to be more confident."

            "No!" Ritsuko shook her head. "Why would I tell you a stupid thing like that? I told you to not dress like a disheveled slob and act like a paranoid loon."

            Insana blinked. "To not... what... how?"

            Ritsuko rubbed her forehead.

            "He ain't all there is he?" Hiram asked.

            "You have no idea," Ritsuko said. She forced a smile and nodded. "Director, Chief Engineer."

            Beria shook his head. "And you think you save world, yes?"

            Insana raised his chin. "I suppose, I always thought of that as more of a side effect of my work. Secondary, of course. Perhaps tertiary, really."

            As they walked to their table Hiram raised an eyebrow. "And the primary, science?"

            "Of course! I do what I do for Science!" Insana raised his fist and shook it.

            The Texan brushed the arm aside and looked down at the slightly hunched man. "For science? Boy, there's a war going on."

            "Yes, an excellent opportunity." Insana sat down and fiddled with his gloves. "Look at all the research, look at all that we have accomplished!"

            "You would call war a regrettable necessity?" Beria asked.

            "I'm not sure he'd even allow the regrettable part. I know the type," Hiram muttered. His employer, she, was a prime example.

            "Don't we all," Brea smirked.

            Insana gave a dismissive wave. "I am a man of Science. War is simply a wilder class of experiment."

            Hiram laughed. "Yup. Definitely know your type. Turned his own daughter into an experiment. That takes a special kind."

            "Clean gloves conceal dirty hands." Insana scoffed looking at Hiram's own gloves. "What of you? You sell unproven technology that has yet to kill an Angel. And that's merely what you've got in production. I'd hate to imagine what kludgy prototypes you've wrenched together. What failures has your company buried deep in some forgotten test cell? Or worse, what failures have you tricked the military into buying so they can pointlessly shoot it at the Angels?"

            "Tino..." Ritsuko hissed.

            "No, let the boy speak," Hiram held up a hand. "We're all supposed to be friends here," he added, his words curt and flat.

            "Maybe we better off as enemies," Beria mused.

            "Damn right. Between working with the godless Bolsheviks, the Japs, sorry Ma'am," Hiram bowed his head to Ritsuko who glared. "and the ivory tower eggheads, I'm starting to feel like my boss."

            "Oh yes, Miss Johnson, how is Auntie CC doing? I heard she had a spot of illness," Ritsuko smiled, showing her teeth.

            "Doing okay enough... Auntie?" Hiram blinked. "Pardon?"

            "Yes, my mother did a bit of work for her. Down at your Cleveland facility." Ritsuko's body language was casual bit her eyes were locked onto the Texan's.

            "Ah, the testing cores," Hiram nodded.

            "Not quite as good as the Magi, but... one works with the resources one has."

            "Fifth generation organic computers are still pretty handy. We never did get the bugs worked out of the Personality Transplant OS, but we manage." Hiram flashed his own toothy grin. "Shame about what happened. To Doc Naoko I mean; now she was a brilliant scientist."

            "Mother's loss was a great tragedy." Ritsuko kept her forced smile.

            "Nerv is making do," Beria said, though Ritsuko wondered if there was a not-so-hidden question in the statement.

            "They do have Naoko's darling daughter." Hiram absently nodded. "And it seems she's got some tricks of her own. Just like her momma."

            Ritsuko eyed the Texan.

            "Doctor Forsyth, you are either a very polite man or a very sarcastic one." Insana cackled.

            "I'm not sure I gather your meaning, Boy," Hiram muttered.

            "Now you're just being obvious."

            Shaking her head, Ritsuko turned to look at the bar and the door to the restaurant's kitchen "Where is the wait staff?"

            "Maybe they're being interrogated by Section Two?" Insana suggested.

            Seeing one of the black-suited guards talk into his lapel microphone, Ritsuko shrugged. "Sure, why not."

            "The Reds are eye-ballin' us too."

            "Reds? An upgrade from godless Bolsheviks."

            "Now's not the time for socio-economic banter."

            "Oh why not!" Insana pouted.

            Hiram stared. "Maybe you can call your guards and rustle us up a waitress?" he then asked Ritsuko.

            Insana was not deterred. "Tokyo 3 is the true path forward. Governance by robots! Just and wise decisions will be made under the baleful unblinking watch of our metallic masters!"

            The table fell silent.

            There was an awkward cough as a young waitress with short brown hair in a pixie bob came up to the table. "Um... can I take... drink orders?" Between the fuming scientists, the men in black suits and the armed and armored Russians... she would rather have gone up to the latter groups. "Or are you ready to order entrees?" she asked in a hopeful voice.

            Insana ignored the waitress. "I'm not crazy! That's how this city is run!"

            "The two are not mutually exclusive," Ritsuko sighed.

            Hiram looked to the waitress and gave a big disarming smile. The effect was ruined by his overalls, welding goggles, and almost invasive presence.

            The situation was further exacerbated by Insana looking up at her with his far more unnerving eyewear. "I have demanded menus! I will have them!"

            "Coincidence your daughter is robot, yes?" Beria asked Insana, ignoring the waitress.

            Ritsuko coughed. "I'll have a scotch on the rocks. Those two will have another round of their drinks. And he'll have whatever sweet liquor you have," she briskly said, indicated Insana at the end.

            "Well... we have a liquorice liquor..."

            "Yes, yes." Ritsuko waved her hand. "And we'll start with the house soup, and... this place does steak right? You do have imported cattle meat, correct?"

            "Um..." the waitress blinked. Befitting its expense, most of the restaurant's cliental were Nerv employees, contractors, and other governmental sorts. They had even hosted a few official events, so she was used to some level of strangeness but this...

            "Fine then," Ritsuko pointed to Hiram. "This is your area right?"

            "I guess that depend on what they use to fire their grills." Hiram rubbed his chin. "I may have to check out the kitchen."

            Ritsuko held her forehead. "Why can't it be simple?"

            "Bah, nothin's simpler than a good steak. You just need a slice of beef, some salt and some good wood though hardwood briquettes will do in a pinch."

            "Really? How mundane." Beria smirked.

            "What you think I'd use a jet engine or an inductive cannon?" Hiram snorted. "Induction cannon'll blast it to itty bitty pieces, rubbery pieces too. Engine'll dry it out and make the meat taste like jet fuel... or radiation. Depending on the go juice."

            "Radiation has a taste?" Ritsuko asked.

            "Yes," the three male scientists replied, nearly in sync.

            Ritsuko glared at Insana. "I can guess how they'd know, but you?"

            "I'll... just get your drinks and... soups... and um... see what the chef has special," the waitress said before scurrying away.

            "This was a bad idea," Ritsuko moaned.

            "This was your idea," Insana added.

            "Yes, yes it was." Ritsuko looked around the room and spotted the waitress shuffling back towards them. The young woman was taking extra care to make sure their drinks did not spill.

            The waitress approached the table and began to hand out glasses. "Uh, I talked with the chef and he doesn't normally run the wood grill but since this is a special event..."

            "Well ain't that a surprise, little lady," Hiram smiled. "Now you didn't happen to find what you've got in stock?"

            Watching the Texan smooth-talk the waitress, Ritsuko found herself smiling. She picked up her glass and sniffed the scotch. Part of her hoped that this could work out. Lifting the glass to her lips she tilted it back.

            Then her cell phone rang. Followed by the phones of the other scientists. Using her free hand, Ritsuko pulled out her phone and answered it. "Shit. Where? How high? What about its Pattern?"

            Beria listened and nodded. "Da, I am with her." There was another pause. "Understood." He hung up the phone and saw that Insana and Hiram had also ended their phone calls. "Well?"

            The Section 2 agents and Azazel Naval Infantry also stiffened after their officers pulled out their radios and began shouting orders. Some of them started towards the table in a steady, serious gait.

            Hiram eyed the Russian. "Bad for you too?" He looked from Ritsuko who was still on the phone to the increasingly nervous waitress. "I'm afraid we'll have to cancel that meal Hon. Not your fault." The Texan coughed. "And you might want to get to one of the shelters."

            Insana held his phone like it was a dead fish. "Why did they call me? They know where I am."

            Ritsuko snapped her phone closed. "This is your first time in Tokyo 3, during an attack I mean?"

            Some of his bravado deflating, Insana nodded.

            "When the red ball goes up we all get the notice."

            Insana frowned. "They said there was an Angel, detected, not that it was coming here."

             Hiram snorted. "Boy, this is Tokyo. Where do you think the giant monster's going to attack?"

            Ritsuko eyed the scientists. "Enough, we're needed in the Geo Front."




            Ritsuko stepped into the Command Center. The sirens, hurried shouts, and flashing displays provided a welcome distraction. Looking over her shoulder she could see Insana and Beria getting to work. Insana commandeered several terminals belonging to one of the two Vice Command centers that sat at the front of the cavernous room.

            Beria had sidled over to the Azazel liaison group; the Naval officers gravely nodding with the scientist. Even the Texan had gained a new focus, quietly with one of the JSSDF generals.

            The scientist fished a cigarette out of her lab coat pocket. "Maya what's the status?"

            Lieutenant Ibuki looked up from her display. "NORAD and Azazel confirm our telemetry. Low orbit presence. Massive size. Definitely not man-made."

            "Angel," Misako stated, she turned back to Lieutenant Makoto Hyuga. "Is there anything we can equip the Evas with? What's the max range on the Mark 9's?"

            "You'll want vertical range, and no, this thing is in orbit, and over the Indian Ocean." Ritsuko snorted and waved to the giant display and the single red chevron hovering ominously. Her eyes went back to the telemetry and size estimates. "Better get the Evas and the Pilots prepped though."

            Misako nodded and contacted Captain Sakharov

            "Retrograde orbit," Maya added. "Still haven't gotten Pattern lock. Surveillance satellites haven't gotten a visual yet, radar only."

            Overseeing the procedure Gendo nodded. He then turned to Beria and Sudoplatov. "Director, Admiral, what assets does Azazel have?"

            "Sir?" Misako asked.

            "I don't like the idea of having this thing overhead." Gendo forced a thin smile. "If our allies could give us the courtesy of eliminating it before that happens..."

            Beria gave a little bow. "In cooperation with the RVSN, Azazel has emplaced payloads on several of our strategic rocket assets." The balding man then looked to Admiral Sudoplatov who nodded. "However, some of the units had their boost and targeting components... upgraded. I must admit, we did not intend to hit target so... high."

            "It seems that you are about to be challenged." Gendo looked to Ritsuko. "What of the Americans?"

            Ritsuko tapped Makoto on the back. "NORAD and Space Command are also tracking," the young lieutenant answered. "They agree with the threat assessment. Damn... we need a better downlink. I'm authorizing the Magi to patch into their systems."

            Gendo nodded. "However, that's not what I meant." His gaze went to the gaggle of JSSDF officers. Among them was a taller man still wearing red coveralls and holding a pair of work gloves. "You! Doctor Hiram! What do you know of American assets? Has Project Jarngreipr gone operational?"

            Hiram looked up at the top tier and squinted. "I don't know what you're talking about. Sir."

            Gendo folded his hands before his face. "Oh? I suppose your friends in Cheyenne will clear that matter up. I want solutions people. " He angled his head down and adjusted his glasses. "Right now Azazel has the most viable plan. Get to work."

            "Sir," Ritsuko said, echoing many others. Before she returned to Maya's workstation she spared a glance at the map display and the misleadingly slow, but inexorable movement of the anomaly.

            Fuyutsuki leaned to Gendo. "I must confess, I never considered such an avenue of attack."

            "After Gaghiel perhaps we should," Ikari replied in a near whisper. He frowned. "This planet is inundated with water and surrounded by vacuum. It is natural the enemy would attack from those two locations. We should have seen this. Others have. Alert the Prime Minister personally. It would be... embarrassing if something happened. "

            Fuyutsuki raised his eyebrows.

            Lower on the command center tower, Ritsuko had returned to the other scientists. "So Azazel funds are going to your strategic rocket forces?"

            Smiling thinly, Beria shrugged. "Reasonable precaution."

            "Yes, corrupt paranoia pays off," Ritsuko groused lighting her cigarette.

            "If pays off, not paranoia," Beria replied.

            Misako chuckled. "Can you hit it?" she asked the Russian.

            Beria gave Hiram a meaningful glance. "Like the fist of an angry god!"

            Hiram coughed. He hoped the Cleveland branch was still on schedule. Even a half completed gadget at Vandenberg could make the difference.

            Looking at the altitude information on the target icon, Beria then shook his head. "But... in... time. We can intercept but... I fear what will do if we give it window."

            Across the command center, Insana shook his raised arms. "This is foolishness!"

            Ritsuko slowly turned and glared at Insana down in the left terminal annex. "Yes?"

            "You really think it's going to sit up there and wait for us to shoot it down?" Insana shrilly shouted.

            Beria blinked. "Yes, that is fear."

            "You realize that it will see you coming; you think your little bombs will work?" Insana crooned.

            "That is how we killed several of them," Sudoplatov stated, now holding one of the secure analog phones that had been installed in the command center.

            "And now? Now, they're clever."

            Misako's eyes narrowed. "And now this one just shows up. Where did it come from?" she turned to Maya.

            "It... it just appeared," Maya said. "All telemetry shows a similar... effect."

            "No launch from the ground, no orbital insertion from outer space, it just appeared!" Insana tittered. "And we still don't have visual lock on it!"

            Holding his forehead, Beria nodded. "Agree. No pattern confirmation, Angel wants us to know it there."

            "Chto za huy," Sudoplatov swore, with the phone to his ear. "Apologies Sirs, recommend immediate launch, Plan Zhar-Ptitsa. Repeat Zhar-Ptitsa." Behind him, several Azazel officers were repeating targeting information to their equivalents in the Russian Strategic Rocket Service and the Space Force

             Gendo rose from his seat on the highest tier. "What are you deploying?"

            The Russian admiral looked up at the giant world map. "Half a dozen rockets in staggered pairs. If our scientists' babble is right, then this is some sort of ambush. Best to crush it now." He looked back up at Ikari.

            Ritsuko concealed a little smile; even after everything, people still looked to him.

            "US Space Command agrees," Makoto announced from his workstation.

            "We're now getting their feed," Ritsuko added. "It's... it's bad."

            "And naturally they recommend Russia goes first." Clasping his hands, Gendo let his gaze fall onto Hiram. "Admiral a bit of advice, keep something in reserve. I don't like how accommodating the enemy is."

            Admiral Sudoplatov nodded and returned to authorizing the launch. The scientists resumed their research and the officers returned to deploying their forces. With forewarning Tokyo 3's defense-in-depth greatly expanded.

            "Evangelions are ready for sortie!" Misako announced.

            Gendo nodded. "Status of the transport aircraft?"

            Misako bowed her head and called the airfield.

            Fuyutsuki had ended his phone call and returned to Gendo. "Concerned?"

            "Certainly. This is too handy. Our enemy is getting more intelligent, not less."

            "Detecting multiple launches from Northern Eurasia!" Maya shouted as several blue diamond icons were added to the holographic display. In their wake were trails of blue lines that made them look like a primitive representation of a comet.

            The command center began to hush as the Azazel rockets closed in onto the suspected Angel. It became such that the clicking of keyboards and the half conversations of those using the secure telephone units began to dominate the cavernous room.

            "Now we shall see," Gendo said as the first of the blue diamonds began to overlap with the red chevron.

            "Premature detonation! Target separation! No... multiple targets appearing. Ground approach vectors!" Maya cried.

            "We're getting Pattern Orange on the ones that are within range of satellites and ground based detectors," Shigeru said as many of the chevrons shifted to orange in coloration.

            With a flicker the holographic display updated. Streaks of red now covered the map. The initial chevron had turned into something resembling a blown over starfish as several targets spread from the initial point of detonation.

            Of more concern to the command center were the many streaks that were suddenly growing, having appeared all over the global map.

            "Eight, a dozen, no... twenty... twenty five. Thirty! Inbound echoes," Maya announced to the silenced room. "Most seem... smaller than the original."

            Noting that the Russians were already giving new orders via the secure phones, Gendo stood. "Continue targeting. I want to find out where these things are going. Also get me visual lock on one of the damn things."

            The scientists began to work and soon the map started to update. Many of the tracks were taken out by the Azazel missiles, but their efforts were largely limited to the starfish birthed by the initial echo.

            Several light red elongated ovals began to cover the map. They represented the strike zones. About half were smeared over Europe, where they overlapped to form a bright splotch. Another splotch covered the middle section of East Asia centered over the Korean Peninsula and the East China Sea.

            That left two over South America, two on the eastern part of North America, and a smattering of single ovals: southern Africa, East Australia, the Indian sub-continent and the Middle East.

            As Ritsuko, Maya and the other scientists worked on the telemetry the ovals began to shrink. In the auxiliary command section Insana was also working on the orbital problem. As the targets became more apparent the splotches broke up and each oval became a darker shade of red.

            "Nailed it!" Maya said triumphantly. "They're cities!" She then deflated and her tone became more clinical. "Using the more remote echoes to start from and calibrating them all, it would seem that they're headed for the capital cities of the following countries," she said entering them on the central display.

            The holographic updated by highlighting the twenty targeted countries and putting boxes around the suspected... impact sites: over twenty cities on all six of the remaining continents.

            "The largest echo is en route to Tokyo 3. We think some of that is for Tokyo 2 however. After that it's Seoul and Beijing. Then Canberra, New Delhi, Moscow...." Maya broke off.

            The map display made the other targets clear enough: Cape Town, Riyadh. Brasília, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Ottawa, and Washington, DC. And finally the giant splotch over Europe had resolved into Ankara, Berlin, Rome, Paris, London, Copenhagen, Brussels, and as Maya had already said Moscow.

            "Should we have foreseen this?" Fuyutsuki quietly asked.

            "Yes." Gendo muttered then looked up at the map. "We can take some comfort in it."


            "Capital cities. At least they're not going after our industrial capacity." Ikari stood again. "Alert all the targeted nations, and all Nerv branches."

            Ritsuko nodded. "We're feeding this data direct to any defense system that's answering. We think the attack is still eight minutes out. There might be enough time to get their defenses up, or at least evacuate to shelters."




            Shinju leaned back in the plug. Controlling her breathing, she checked her weapon load out. Her bandoleers had the full gamut of sixteen inch shells: green-tipped canister shot, blue-tipped ground penetrators, red-tipped N2 warheads, and white-tipped nuclear warheads. The armorers did not seem too enthused about the opportunity to send up reloads. The front display of the plug was dominated by a tactical map. It showed the cluster of red echoes that marked the Angel. At lower heights were blue marks of Nerv, JSSDF, and Azazel assets. She made a point to not look at the strategic map; she had to focus on this battle. She glanced at the clock, enough time had passed. "ETA to impact?"

            "Azazel hasn't even launched their naval batteries," Misako's exhausted voice said somewhat reproachfully.

            "This is insane," Toji said from Unit 03. "What do you expect us do to if Azazel doesn't get it? Catch the damn thing?"

            "Shut up. Just shut up," Kiko swore. Unlike the other pilots she had a sound-only link from her cockpit.

            "No. If the enemy's coming in too fast then... we'll hold off." Misako hesitated and looked off the screen. Behind her the rest of the command staff paced between their stations, the giant holographic display reflecting off their bodies.

            Misako continued. "If the roof gets a... minor rupture then we'll sortie you directly to the Geo-Front. If the whole Geo-Front goes up... well," Misako laughed. "If it looks like that, you'll be launched outside the city limits. If there's anything left you'll make contact with what Nerv assets remain. There's a comm. team on the AY-11. Failing that you'll take orders from the Azazel command post aboard the Admiral Kuznetsov."

            Toji flexed his fingers. "Shit."

            "You do not see direct combat, Captian... Oneesan?" Rei's eyes lowered slightly.

            Misako gave a shrug. "Either the Russians kill the thing, or it slams into the city. If it hits it'll break through the roof armor or it won't," her words became more distant. "Azazel's about to launch local assets."

            Toji looked at the map. It was anticlimactic. Blue dots scattered around Japan some of them coming from what had to be submarines raced up. As they vanished in a series of blips, the red target markers decreased and the next defense layer went off.

            Toji set his teeth. He knew that a nuclear blast could take out an AT field but it had to be right up against it. Here the angel had split itself up was using each sub piece to intercept Azazel's missiles. He saw that the enemy echoes were starting to split up. One was still going to Tokyo 2 while the bulk... the bulk were still coming towards them.

            He thought about his father, sister, and Hikari but... it was like the other cities. They were already in the shelters or they were not. The shelters would be deep enough or they would not be. His stomach churned and despite the LCL his face felt like it had started to sweat.

            All of the Kanto region lit up like a blue Christmas tree. This was immediately overshadowed by what looked like a continuous blue fire as the batteries in the Kanagawa prefecture immediately surrounding Tokyo 3 let off. Most of the chevrons evaporated leaving a handful of overlapping echoes.

            "Damn," Toji mused. He could imagine the fierce nuclear storm burning above the city as the missiles pummeled the comet-like formation. A chain of horrendous airbursts would be falling down towards the city. He swallowed his mouth feeling dry despite the LCL. Toji knew he could access visual feed of the sky above them but... part of him hesitated. He looked on the displays of the Ayanami sisters and guessed by the churning orange reflections on both their faces that they were watching the onrushing storm.

            "It's not that impressive," Kiko chided. "Most of it's JSSDF. Just N2's. Only one in ten's Azazel. Rest are decoys."

            Toji shivered.

            "Holy..." A tinge of color came onto Misako's face. "It's... slowing down."

            "The bastard's trying to land!" Ritsuko shouted from behind the elder clone.

            "Final line! Weapons free! Air Assets if you get a clear shot take it!" Misako shouted.

            By now the Angel had just come in range of the Azazel Su-33's and their Moskva IIB's. Some of their icons vanished, it looked like the Angel had counter-attacked. However, their launches were momentarily blotted out by the batteries mounted on the ridges surrounding Tokyo 3 opening up. Much like a car slamming into a pond being disturbed by a torrential downpour, the barrage of conventional missiles was interrupted by a pair of nuclear explosions.

            Faintly, faintly feeling the vibrations of the ridgeline batteries, Toji now felt the pressure waves of the twin explosions hitting the Geo Front. The explosions were high up. Metal groaned and buildings shook but it was no more than a earthquake; the ceiling held. Pattern Blue alerts also flared on his display.

            "It's..." Misako coughed. "It's still alive. We gave the damn thing a cushion to land on." She gave a brittle laugh. "Sorry kids, looks like I lied, turns out you're fighting in the city. It's not moving much; we think the angel's stunned. Go up and kill it."

            Toji looked up as the rows and rows of armored doors slipped aside clearing the catapult track. Despite being on an oblique and indirect track to the surface he could still see a ruddy orange-red glow at the top, like an over-stoked furnace. "Well, shit."

            "Come on, Rookie, this is what they pay us for," Kiko chuckled, Unit 02 cocking its head in something like a smirk.

            The Fourth Child whistled. "Over the top!" Shinju cackled as the catapult launched her Evangelion. Followed shortly by the rest of the squad.


End Chapter 10


            I'd like to thank my pre-readers. They read through my most egregious mistakes so you don't have to. J St C Patrick, Pale Wolf, DGC,  and Wray.


            And yes I did have a couple cameos that fans of Insana/o would be familiar with.


            Also I know this is a cliffhanger, but do not worry,  the next chapter is written and will be released once is had been pre-read and corrected.





            Finishing his song, Harvey looked up to see an empty room, turning to Elizabeth, he opined, "Philistines, the lot of them. Wouldn’t know good music if it fell out of the sky and hit them."

            Elizabeth took his arm and led him off the stage. "Come, let’s get to the shelter.”

            The room was empty in its elegance.

            Then the lid of the baby grand that Elisabeth Finevoice had been playing rose and a thin man with a genial goatee and glasses climbed out.  Standing on the dais, he adjusted his loose fitting red tie and dark sports coat and straightened his cap.

            “I thought they’d never leave.”